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Toxic Crystals, Fakes & Forgeries


Chalcanthite - a highly toxic, artificially grown crystal

POTENTIALLY TOXIC CRYSTALS


For those new to crystals, it can be a bit startling to find out that some minerals are actually regarded as toxic. Respecting the crystals for the beautiful, powerful, elemental forms that they are means taking some very real things into consideration when working with and handling the pieces in your collection. While the majority of crystals commonly available can be regarded as quite safe for general use, there are a few notable exceptions and certain practices to be avoided. First and foremost - please use a healthy dose of common sense when handling minerals! Keep crystals away from children until they can understand how to properly care for them, and wash your hands after handling as a very general rule.

Determining mineral toxicity is complicated and something that requires a strong knowledge of chemistry and biology. The potential inhalation or ingestion of toxic mineral particles is the biggest cause for concern. Many toxic minerals are also soluble to varying degrees, which can liberate potentially harmful elements from within their crystalline structure. Crystals should never be consumed in any form, under any circumstance. If you are unaware of a crystal's chemical formula, please exercise caution. Only gem essences or elixirs created via the indirect method of preparation are recommended (place crystals in a separate glass inside the bowl or jug of water, without the contents coming into any direct contact with the water). Yoni eggs have also become popular in recent years, posing particular concern not only from the possible absorption of toxic elements, but also due to the potential friability of many stones.

While it is important to be aware about toxic stones, it is also necessary to distinguish the qualities of a pure element from those of a mineral compound. A real life example would be NaCl - better known as common table salt - which is composed of the poisonous gas Chlorine and the explosive metal Sodium, yet it is rendered safe and stable in its compound form. Some crystal lists have sparked needless alarm without taking into consideration the stability of many mineral compounds, even if they do contain a singularly toxic element within their structure. However, the differences between solubility and stability can be subtle, and Mindat.com is the best resource for any additional research. The following is by no means a complete or comprehensive list - nor does it claim to outline all of the exact or potential risks - but the hope is that it may serve as a rough guide to help navigate some of the more infamously toxic minerals (I have taken the liberty to designate 'avoid completely' to some carcinogenic, radioactive and especially dangerous minerals below which I personally feel do not have a place in domestic collections). Be especially cautious of Sulfide and Halide mineral groups as these are the most chemically reactive. Gem cutters & lapidary hobbyists should take all appropriate safety measures to avoid breathing in dust when cutting or grinding any type of stone. Please also note that there are still a great many crystals not mentioned in this list that, while they may not be considered inherently toxic, are still not suitable for direct method elixirs due to their friable or soluble natures.




ANGLESITE - treat with extra care - contains lead; may react with acids in the skin; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


ARSENOPYRITE - treat with extra care - contains arsenic & sulphur; releases toxic fumes when heated; avoid placing in a sunny window, keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


ASBESTOS INCLUSIONS - special mention - minerals such as Serpentine, Tiger's Eye, Pietersite & Riebeckite Quartz contain asbestos within their crystalline structure, but in their polished form are considered very unlikely to pose any kind of risk; however, raw specimens of asbestos-bearing minerals should be treated with extra care; keep raw specimens away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


AZURITE - treat with extra care - contains toxic levels of copper; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling (especially raw specimens)


BETAFITE - avoid completely - contains radioactive uranium; not suitable for collections


CHALCANTHITE - avoid completely - contains dangerous amounts of copper in a highly soluble form; extremely toxic to human health & aquatic ecosystems; not suitable for collections


CHRYSOTILE - avoid completely - a variety of asbestos; carcinogenic; not suitable for collections


CINNABAR - treat with extra care - contains mercury; releases toxic fumes when heated; avoid placing in a sunny window, keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


CERUSSITE - treat with extra care - contains lead; may react with acids in the skin; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


CROCIDOLITE - avoid completely - a variety of asbestos; carcinogenic; not suitable for collections


CROCOITE - treat with extra care - contains toxic hexavalent chromium & lead; very friable & soluble in acids; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


ERIONITE - avoid completely - a fibrous zeolite mineral; carcinogenic; not suitable for collections


GALENA - treat with extra care - contains lead; may oxidise & degrade to form a powdery coating of Cerussite (lead carbonate) or Anglesite (lead sulphate); keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


LOPEZITE - avoid completely - contains dangerous, highly soluble hexavalent chromium; carcinogenic & extremely toxic to aquatic ecosystems; not suitable for collections


LORANDITE - avoid completely - contains thallium, arsenic & sulphur; carcinogenic; not suitable for collections


MALACHITE - treat with extra care - contains toxic levels of copper; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling (especially raw specimens)


MARCASITE - treat with extra care - contains sulphur; when exposed to water or humid environments, Marcasite may form crusts of white powder (Melanterite) & sulphuric acid; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


MIMETITE - treat with care - contains lead; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


MONAZITE - avoid completely - contains radioactive thorium & sometimes uranium; not suitable for collections


ORPIMENT - treat with extra care - contains arsenic; can photo-decompose to highly toxic powdery Arsenolite; keep out of light, keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after after handling


PYRITE - treat with care - contains sulphur; when exposed to water or humid environments, Pyrite can oxidise and degrade to Marcasite, which may form crusts of white powder (Melanterite) & sulphuric acid; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


REALGAR - treat with extra care - contains arsenic; readily photo-decomposes to highly toxic powdery Pararealgar, keep out of light, keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


SILICATES - special mention - while this mineral group (including Quartz, Garnet, Feldspar, Beryl, Tourmaline & many others) is widely considered very safe & stable in crystalline or polished form, prolonged exposure to the inhalation of fine silicon dust particles may lead to silicosis; take appropriate safety measures if cutting or grinding material & avoid breathing in dust


STIBNITE - treat with care - contains antimony; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


TOBERNITE - avoid completely - contains radioactive uranium; not suitable for collections


VANADINITE - treat with care - contains lead & vanadium; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


VILLIAUMITE - avoid completely - contains dangerous amounts of fluoride in a highly soluble form; extremely toxic to human health; not suitable for collections


WITHERITE - treat with extra care - contains barium; toxic if ingested; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, handle infrequently & wash hands after handling


WULFENITE - treat with care - contains lead; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


ZEOLITES - special mention - this mineral group includes many fibrous species (such as Okenite, Natrolite & Mesolite) and care should be taken to avoid inhalation of small particles; keep away from children & pets, avoid breathing in dust, avoid contact with water, wash hands after handling


 

CRYSTAL 'FAKES'


For as long as crystals have been cherished, there have been crystal fakes. In his Natural History, Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder notes that Ancient Egyptians had techniques for counterfeiting Lapis Lazuli, their most prized stone. Pliny goes on to describe various processes used by the Romans to impersonate or manipulate different gemstones, including reconstituting and artificially dying crystals as well as manufacturing deceptive glass fakes. Medieval alchemists also understood that heating stones could change their physical properties, and later lapidary texts mention accounts of treating Carnelian in a sugar solution to darken its colour (a practice that is still perpetuated in modern times).


In the crystal trade today, a number of different gem treatments, synthetics, and outright fakes exist - some commonly known, and some not as easily perceptible to the untrained eye. Unfortunately many inexperienced sellers are also promoting some of these 'crystals' as the real deal, which is a serious concern and sadness. Purchasing your crystals from a trustworthy and knowledgable source is essential. While faked stones of glass or other materials may be objects of beauty in their own right, the important thing to understand is that they are not authentic crystals. Other artificial 'enhancements' to genuine stones are not considered true fakes, however the disclosure of any known treatments should be made clear. The list below outlines a number of marketing names for treated stones as well as a few non-crystals and notorious fakes of which to be aware. For a more comprehensive study, you may also want to explore our article on Crystal Trade Names, Synonyms, & Misnomers, as there are also many occasions when natural crystals are sold under trade or marketing names that misrepresent their true mineral identity.




ALUM CRYSTAL - a manmade lab-created material composed of potassium aluminium sulphate, seen in a variety of colours & easily grown from a science kit; also known as Cermikite or Alunite (though not to be confused with the genuine mineral Alunite)


AMBER - much genuine Amber is available on the market, however many manmade resin fakes exist; watch out for unusually clear pieces (especially those with a perfectly 'preserved' creature on the inside - real insect Amber is rare and expensive); genuine Amber can also be subjected to various artificial treatments, such heating it in oil to create 'sun spangles' (disc-like inclusions) seen commonly in jewellery, heating it to achieve a green colour or a darker shade of orange or red, or reconstituting small fragments with heat and high pressure; Copal is the name for young Amber (less than 20 million years old) and is usually softer & lighter in colour


ANDARA CRYSTAL - a notorious scam for manmade coloured 'slag glass' or 'cullet glass' (used in landscaping & aquarium decoration) being sold as authentic natural crystals from the earth; also known as Monatomic Andara


AURA QUARTZ - a series of artificially enhanced Quartz varieties available in a spectrum of rainbow colours, originally created by the deposition of pure elemental vapours of Gold, Titanium, & Indium in a vacuum chamber; low quality Chinese versions have also been produced more recently, coated with various dielectric (electrically insulating) chemicals similar to those used on mirrored sunglasses; the same treatment has been applied to Amethyst clusters & occasionally Danburite crystals; coated geode or cluster formations are sometimes also known as Rainbow Druzy


BELLO OPAL - a manmade lab-created polymer material commonly sold as an Opal imitation


BISMUTH - most commonly refers to a manmade lab-grown material with bright rainbow sheen & stepped 'hopper' formation; only very rarely found in nature as a silvery white metal


BLUE GOLDSTONE - a trade name for a manmade glass containing tiny glittering flecks of Cobalt particles suspended in a coloured matrix; also seen in green & gold varieties


BLUE OBSIDIAN - most commonly refers to a manmade glass with a bright transparent aqua or peacock blue colour; genuine blue Obsidian only occurs naturally as a turquoise-blue sheen against a black background, as one of the colours sometimes seen in Rainbow Obsidian


BLUEBERRY QUARTZ - a manmade glass with streaks of bright blue colouring, often shaped into artificial points and spheres; a red version of this glass is called Cherry Quartz


CARBORUNDUM - a manmade material composed of silicon carbide, artificially produced as an industrial abrasive & sold as dark rainbow metallic 'specimens'; also known as Moissanite


CAT'S EYE - often refers to a manmade material available in many bright colours, composed of synthetic glass fibres that transmit light in a satiny sheen, resembling the effect of chatoyancy as found naturally in Tiger's Eye or Chrysoberyl (also known as natural Cat's Eye)


CERMIKITE - a manmade lab-created material composed of potassium aluminium sulphate, seen in a variety of colours & easily grown from a science kit; also referred to as Alum or Alunite (though not to be confused with the genuine mineral Alunite)


CHALCANTHITE - most commonly refers to a manmade lab-grown material composed of bright blue copper sulphate; an extremely water soluble & highly toxic substance to be avoided; only found very rarely in nature as fibrous prismatic crystals; not suitable for collections (see above)


CHERRY QUARTZ - a manmade glass with streaks of bright red colouring, often shaped into artificial points and spheres; sometimes also seen as Cinnabar Quartz or Strawberry Quartz (not to be confused with the trade name Strawberry Quartz used to describe a genuine combination of Quartz with flecks red Hematite inclusions), or Blueberry Quartz (a blue glass version)


CITRINE - most of the commonly available orange-tinted or dark amber coloured 'Citrine' on the market is actually heat-treated Amethyst; artificial Citrine is mostly seen as broad clusters or chunky 'root' points with white at the base; another variety of fake Citrine from China has a green-gold tint; genuine Natural Citrine can be identified by its typically longer prismatic crystals found in a range of colours from light blonde to golden brown (Smoky Citrine)


COLOURED AGATE - there are so many wonderful varieties of Agate, many of them displaying beautiful natural colours (Blue Lace Agate, Condor Agate, Crazy Lace Agate to name a few); however, the structure of Agate is porous, making it popular for artificial dye 'enhancements'; dyed Agates are most often seen as tumbled stones, geode slices, or in jewellery in a range of bright colours including magenta pink, royal blue, purple, green, red, orange & even some unsuspecting shades of brown; similarly, Chalcedony (of which Agate is a variety) can also be subjected to artificial dyes, most commonly achieving a dark green or aqua blue colour


CRAB FIRE AGATE - an artificially enhanced variety of Agate that has been heat-treated and 'crazed' (quench-crackled) to induce a mottled appearance; also known as Spiderweb Carnelian


CRACKLE QUARTZ - an artificially enhanced variety of Quartz that has been heated to a very high temperature and then cooled quickly, or quench-crackled; the shock creates a network of fractures which can absorb various brightly coloured dyes; also known as Fire & Ice Quartz


'CRYSTAL' - when not used in a mineralogical sense, a colloquial term used to describe 'lead glass' tableware or decorative objects of manmade origin; also known as Lead Crystal, Czech Crystal, Swarovski Crystal & Waterford Crystal